Persephone and Demeter
Thousands of years ago, when refrigerators did not exist and growing and collecting corps required a lot of time and effort, people around the globe had a better understanding of the connection between climate and our own survival. Therefore, many civilizations had a deity dedicated to Mother Earth and her offerings.
The ancient Greeks believed in Gaia, the personification of the Earth, and Demeter, the Olympian goddess of the harvest, fertility, and agriculture. The latter was one of the most important goddesses since she was responsible for covering one of the most basic human needs: hunger.
What ancient Greeks couldn’t understand was why their beloved deity, the one that they adored and worshipped, would bring them so many hardships for months and months during fall and winter. And that is when the story of Persephone and the four seasons started to be told.
Persephone was the beloved daughter of Demeter. Her father was Zeus, Demeter’s brother, but incest among the Olympian gods is not exactly our topic for today.
The maiden loved spending time in nature, which comes as no surprise, thinking that her mother was the goddess who was associated the most with the Earth. She was known to be as very beautiful and she incorporated elements of purity and innocence. Soon enough though, her name became taboo and she herself became the dreadful queen of the dead, a chthonic divinity living in the darkness.
Persephone and Plouton
It all started when one of her uncles became attracted to her and wanted her as his wife. The god was no other than Plouton, the ruler of Hades. Plouton had already talked to Zeus about his desire to marry Persephone. The maiden’s father had no objections to this but he warned Plouton that Demeter, her mother, would never allow this. She wouldn’t bear seeing her beautiful daughter being trapped in a dark place under the earth, living among the dead. Persephone’s wants were never taken into consideration, but everyone knew that the young woman wouldn’t like to spend her life in Hades. With that in mind, Plouton orchestrated Persephone’s abduction.
The Abduction of Persephone
It was a beautiful, sunny day and Persephone was gathering flowers along with Artemis, the virgin goddess of Hunting, and some other maidens. All of a sudden, the ground started to shake and a man emerged from the depths of the Earth. He was Plouton. Persephone had no time to scream; Plouton had grabbed her and was forcing her into the Earth. Persephone was led to the underworld, married against her will, and was given six pomegranate seeds. Eating these seeds would force her to stay in Hades.
Persephone’s friends did not realize what was going on until Persephone was long gone. The only witness was Helios, the sun. As any mother would do in this situation, Demeter searched everywhere for her daughter. Through fields and forests, by the lakes and rivers, in cities and villages. Persephone was nowhere to be found.
Demeter, Persephone, and the Four Seasons
Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. The only thing that was in Demeter’s mind was the strange disappearance of Persephone. It was if she was swallowed by the Earth. The goddess had completely neglected her duties and the Earth was becoming infertile. There were less and less corps available and people were becoming hungry.
Helios, the personification of sun, could not bear seeing the people dying of hunger and finally revealed to Demeter that her brother, Plouton, had abducted her precious daughter.
It comes as no surprise that Demeter was angered by the news. She visited Zeus and demanded to have her daughter brought back to her. Until then, she refused to let the Earth bear corps. Humanity was destined to die.
Zeus was pressured to take immediate action. On one hand, he had given his blessings to his brother Plouton and taking it back would not look good on him. On the other hand, one of the most respected goddesses was hysterical and people were dying. And he finally did the right thing, not for the shake of his daughter’s happiness, but to be seen as the savior of humanity in a difficult situation like this.
Negotiating with Plouton was not easy but the god of the underworld knew that Zeus was the most respected and powerful of the Olympian gods. He agreed to let Persephone return to her mother but there was one condition; Persephone would have to come back to him after six months and the same cycle would repeat itself again and again. Zeus was obliged to accept this condition, and so did Demeter.
With the help of the messenger god Hermes, Persephone would return on the surface of the Earth every spring and she would spend time with her mother and her friends till the beginning of autumn. Then, Hermes would lead her back to Hades, where she would spend the rest of year. According to the myth, this is the reason why the Earth is less fertile during winter. Demeter refuses to keep the soil fertile while her daughter is away.
Persephone as a Chthonic Deity
It is important to note that Persephone never agreed to go to Hades. However, she felt like she had no power over her fate and she soon accepted her role as the queen of the underworld. Persephone grew from an innocent girl into a mature woman and was respected by the dead souls of Hades. She was the one welcoming the souls upon their arrival. The queen of the underworld, as they called her, was believed to be worshipped by secret cults who wanted to achieve immortality or a desirable afterlife.
Origins of the Myth
The myth of Persephone is known from Homer’s epics and it is also mentioned in the poem “Theogony” by Hesiod. There are also numerous variations of the story, however, the main storyline stays the same. It is believed to be based on the myth of the ancient Mesopotamian goddess Inanna. It is worth mentioning that Persephone and Demeter are both associated with the “Eleusinian Mysteries”, the secret rituals that were taking place in the city of Eleusina from 1.600 BCE to 392 CE. These rituals were believed to offer an alternative and more desirable afterlife for the participants.
Thoughts about Persephone
Do you think that Persephone’s myth represents the connection between life and death? The way that dead matter fertilizes the Earth and new life is brought on the planet? Persephone was the goddess of vegetation and she became the goddess of the underworld later in life. The myth explains the change of the seasons, however, it could also explain the circle of life. How life is being recycled through the Earth. What do you think? Leave your thoughts down below 🙂
*Also referred as Hades.
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